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Iraq: Kurdish Intellectual Faces A Second Trial

Kamal Sayyid Qadir (file photo) (AFP) Jailed Kurdish intellectual Kamal Sayyid Qadir spoke by telephone from Irbil with RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on February 27. Qadir was convicted in January of defaming the Kurdish cause and the intelligence service of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in articles that he wrote while in Austria, where he has citizenship.

According to Qadir, his initial trial lasted only 15 minutes. The original charges were reportedly thrown out. His new trial on lesser charges in the Court of Misdemeanors is set to begin on March 9. Kurdish officials told RFI that Qadir remains in prison awaiting trial because he is considered a "special" case.

Qadir is currently being held by the Asayish intelligence service in Irbil. He has been allowed to keep his mobile phone in his cell.

Kamal Sayyid Qadir: This has been for the fifth time that I have announced a hunger strike. I previously undertook four hunger strikes during my imprisonment here in the Asayish [internal security headquarters] and received concessions from officials. This time, however, I have really entered a hunger strike that I will continue until I am released either on bail or indefinitely. I promise all honest people that I will not tolerate this oppression.

Yesterday [February 26], I suffered from oppression as a judge came who was obligated to release me on bail, but I was not released because the public prosecutor was not there. Therefore I have entered a hunger strike, and I will continue it until I leave prison as a free person, being released either on bail or completely. Asayish officials have always respected my previous decisions [of this kind]. I am convinced that they will respect my decision also this time and that they will not be made to use methods of force feeding me because this is not possible. They did not try this in the previous times, and they will not try now either.

I want to demonstrate to the Iraqi and Kurdish people, and to people in general, that oppression has two sides: the first side is the oppressor and the other side is the oppressed who tolerate their being oppressed. But I am not from those who tolerate oppression because, for all my life, I have been cautious to care about the rights of others. If I cannot defend my own rights, how then can I defend the rights of others?

RFI: Do you think you were mistaken in your writings that have been used against you in the trial?

Qadir: I have not been mistaken in my writings. I have written maybe 100 articles and studies so far. I do admit that I have used some words that are not appropriate toward some people mentioned in the articles. But I have apologized to those people directly, in a letter addressed to Kurdistan Region President Mas'ud Barzani, Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, and other people who were named in the articles.

Nonetheless, I cannot revoke what I have written about the problems of corruption and protectionism in Kurdistan and Iraq. These are problems that no one can overlook, and Kurdish media have recognized them too. There is social inequality, inflated prices, and injustice. There is a problem with justice itself as the courts are not free to the extent that we would wish and that international law requires. This is what I have written, and I will be writing further in this manner.

I want to mention that the gentlemen of the Asayish in Irbil said they did not want to prohibit me from writing, but that the thing they do not want me to do is to use words that I have used in some articles. I should mention as well that those words occurred in a particular situation, and the leadership of the Kurdistan Democratic Party knows well that I am not guilty in this issue but someone else is.

I do admit that I have used some words that are not appropriate toward some people mentioned in the articles. But I have apologized to those people directly, in a letter addressed to Kurdistan Region President Mas'ud Barzani, Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, and other people who were named in the articles.

This is something I want to explain to Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. He asked me to send a letter to him in which I would explain the problem, and I asked him if we could meet for a few minutes so that I could describe for him the background of this issue. This is a political cause in which I am a mere victim.

RFI: How would you assess the proceedings of the trial against you?

Qadir: It has been an unfair trial to an extreme extent, violating the legal guarantees of human rights. The first trial, for instance, where I was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment, was even against the Iraqi Code of Criminal Procedure, and definitely against international law. It resembled the trials of Saddam Hussein’s era.

RFI: Did it help you during the prosecution and the trial proceedings that you bear [dual] Austrian citizenship?

Qadir: On the contrary. The judge who tried me was very disturbed with the fact that I bear Austrian citizenship. He intended to take revenge on me for my being a Kurd bearing Austrian citizenship because he told me that a Kurd should not take the citizenship of another country.

I replied to him that I am a Kurd but there is no citizenship of Kurdistan so I had found myself in need to take Austrian citizenship. [I said] there are Kurdish officials and ministers, including members of the political bureaus of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, who bear the citizenship of foreign countries, including Austria.

RFI: A number of international organizations think that Iraq has become a dangerous place for journalists and writers. What is your comment on this subject?

Qadir: This is correct, I agree with this opinion. There have been murders, violence against, and kidnappings of journalists. Especially foreign journalists, but also Iraqi and Arab journalists [are targeted]. This is obvious to everybody, but all of us expect the Kurdistan Region, being the safest part of Iraq, to be in a different situation.

On the contrary, the freedoms of expression and thought should be guaranteed here but, unfortunately, these principles have not turned into reality until now. This is the reality I had to face. When I returned from Austria to Kurdistan, I could never imagine that, one day in Kurdistan, I would be abducted by my Kurdish brothers, exposed to torture and insults, and standing an unfair trial. This has been a nightmare to me that I would like to forget. I only hope this [case] will be an exception not a rule.

RFI: After you leave prison and the file of your trial is closed, what are your plans in the field of writing?

Qadir: I am proud that I have dedicated 40 years of my life to the service of scholarship and teaching. I have promised myself and sworn to myself that I will dedicate the rest of my life to the service of human rights, human dignity, and social justice, because now I have suffered myself from the hardships of injustice.

I am from a Kurdish family that has sacrificed itself, its property, and whatever a human being owns for the sake of the people’s freedom, democracy, and human rights. Nevertheless, I am not a nationalist, as I have defended Arabs, Jews, Germans, and Austrians. Wherever there is oppression, I want to stand against it. In the future, God willing, I want to be always in support of the rights of the oppressed, through legal means and through writings. I will dedicate the rest of my life to these principles, God willing. This is what I promise.

I wanted to work as Gandhi although I hope that Kurdistan does not need any Gandhi to liberate people because the way to democracy in Kurdistan has indeed begun. But shortcomings appear here and there, and all of us must remove as many of them as possible. This goal must be reached within the framework of law, God willing, and of the constitution of Kurdistan if one is introduced.

RFI: Have you dreamt of playing a role similar to that of Egyptian thinker Sa’d al-Din Ibrahim, who has been prosecuted on issues related to human rights?

Qadir: I have published articles in English, Arabic, and Kurdish on human rights, political systems, and similar issues. But I have never dreamt, or thought of, being exposed to persecution or prison in Kurdistan some day because of my writings. I did not have in my mind any plan to become like Sa’d al-Din Ibrahim or anyone else, although I admit that I had in my mind to serve human rights and human dignity because I personally feel happy when I can fulfill this task.

RFI: Do you think that it is easy for writers and journalists to criticize negative phenomena in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Qadir: There are issues dangerous to their lives but the danger is even graver in some other areas, such as central Iraq and possibly also southern Iraq with Al-Basrah. In Kurdistan, this danger is smaller unless you transgress some limits. These limits are clearly visible to all of us. I think I have myself gone a few steps beyond these limits and this is the price I have paid.

RFI: How do you look at the future of Kurdistan and Iraq on the background of the current situation?

Qadir: I am very pessimistic on the current situation in Iraq. I have published articles in Arabic where I warned that a sectarian war might break out in Iraq. Namely the conditions for the outbreak of a sectarian war can be found in Iraq due to the nature of interaction between some of the religious communities. There is monopolization of power by some families, not really [religious] brotherhoods or sects.

The primary problem in Iraq is that some families have dominated power. They are families who have inherited religious power and then transformed it into political power. [This may be a reference to the Barzani family, originally a line of hereditary sheikhs of the Naqshbandi order in Islamic mysticism -- ed.] This is the most serious danger for democracy in Iraq and even in Kurdistan.

If you look at Kurdistan, [you will see] we are not ruled by a political party but by some particular families who have divided the resources and the posts in the region among their members. Being with these families means receiving some portion of the shares. The opposite means being deprived of even the most basic daily needs. I am one of the latter ones: I have a doctoral degree, speak six languages, have published in four languages – but had I remained in Kurdistan, I would have probably been selling vegetables in the street because I cannot find a convenient position within the system.

If civil war breaks out in Iraq – and this will hopefully not happen, God willing – Kurdistan will have no other choice but to remain out of such a malicious war. This may [be achieved] either through a separation from Iraq, or taking a neutral position like Switzerland and Sweden in the first and second world wars. The latter may be our preferred choice. But our problem is an economic one because 99 percent or more of our economy is linked to the Iraqi economy. The future of Kurdistan is under a serious threat if the current crisis in Iraq outside Kurdistan further deteriorates.

RFI: Where will you live after your case comes to an end? Will you return abroad, or will you stay in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Qadir: I returned from abroad to Kurdistan to 1991, immediately after the war of the liberation of Kuwait ended and Saddam’s forces left Kurdistan. Therefore, I have never thought of leaving Kurdistan, except for the period of the civil war between the dominant political parties [in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1994-95]. I have returned to Kurdistan and taken the taste of prison and injustice but I will stay in Kurdistan for the sake of justice and strengthening democracy in Kurdistan, and for the sake of justice not only in Kurdistan but also in the Kurdish areas that were Arabicized by the former regime [of Saddam Hussein]. No injustice is bigger than to expel people from their homes. This wrongdoing has affected not only Kurds but also Assyrians and Turkomans.

I would like to dedicate the coming two years to supporting the right of the displaced for the return to their homes and so forth in accordance with the Iraqi constitution, Article 136.

(translated by Petr Kubalek)

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